A recent study clarified how cognitive behavioral therapy improves symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The participants were 62 adult women. One group had depression, one had PTSD, and the third was made up of healthy volunteers. None were taking medication at the time of the study. The researchers, led by Yvette Shelive, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to analyze participants’ amygdala connectivity.
At the start of the study, participants with depression or PTSD showed diminished connectivity between the amygdala and brain areas related to cognitive control, the process by which the brain can vary behavior and how it processes information in the moment based on current goals. The lack of connectivity reflected the severity of the participants’ depression. Twelve weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy improved mood and connectivity between the amygdala and these control regions, including the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the inferior frontal cortex. These regions also allow for executive functioning, which includes planning, implementation, and focus.
Children of parents with bipolar disorder are prone to anxiety and emotional dysregulation, but treating these symptoms with antidepressants can provoke symptoms of mania. Thus, non-pharmacological treatements for anxiety and depression are needed. A recent study by Melissa DelBello found that twelve weeks of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy improved symptoms of anxiety and mood dysregulation in 20 youth with a bipolar parent. DelBello used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to observe that the therapy increased activation of brain structures related to emotion and sensing. Amygdala activation differed between those with anxiety and those with mood dysregulation, suggesting that the therapy’s effect was on regions that modulate the amygdala, including prefrontal and insular regions, rather than on the amygdala itself.
At the 2015 meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, researcher Charles Popper reviewed the literature to date about broad-spectrum micro-nutrient treatments for psychiatric disorders in young people, concluding that these formulations of vitamins and minerals can reduce symptoms of aggressive and disordered conduct, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, mood disorders, anxiety, and stress. Four randomized controlled trials showed that micronutrient formulas reduced violence and major misconduct in children.
Popper warned that while these micronutrients can be helpful in treating children who have never been prescribed psychiatric medication, they can interact dangerously with psychiatric medications in children who do take them.
At the same meeting, researcher Bonnie Kaplan reported that six randomized controlled trials of broad-spectrum micro-nutrients and B-complex vitamins in adults with and without psychiatric disorders showed that both of the formulas reduced anxiety and stress following natural disasters (which are associated with the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)).
A new longitudinal study of 391 youth at risk for bipolar disorder revealed some predictors of the disorder. The study by Danella M. Hafeman and colleagues was presented at the 2015 meeting of the Society of Biological Psychiatry. The participants were aged 6–18 and each had a parent with bipolar disorder. Over the course of the study, 40 developed an illness on the bipolar spectrum, including 21 who developed bipolar I or II. The participants were assessed for various descriptive characteristics and those who developed bipolar disorder were compared to those who developed major depressive disorder.
The most important predictors of bipolar disorder were parental assessment of internalizing symptoms of anxiety or depression, self-assessment of mood changeability, and self-assessment of hostility. A diagnosis of bipolar disorder not otherwise specified (BP-NOS) was the only predictor of a later diagnosis of bipolar I or II.
Editors Note: These data resemble findings from a 2015 study by David Axelson and colleagues in the American Journal of Psychiatry that used the same cohort of participants. The Axelson study indicated that a categorical diagnosis of a major psychiatric disorder occurred in 74% of the offspring of a bipolar parent compared to about 50% in a control group from the community. Depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and oppositional disorders were even more common than bipolar disorder in the at-risk population.
The presence of a major psychiatric diagnosis in about three-quarters of the offspring of a parent with bipolar disorder suggests the importance of early vigilance. One way to track symptoms of depression, anxiety, ADHD, oppositional behavior, and bipolar disorder is to join the Child Network, a secure online platform for rating children’s moods, medications, and side effects. These weekly ratings can be collected longitudinally and printed out to help parents and clinicians assess mood difficulties in their children.
Statins are a class of drugs that are the most commonly prescribed treatment for high cholesterol. They can reduce risk of heart attack and stroke in people with a history of cardiovascular disease. New research is beginning to clarify statins’ other effects, which on the negative side can include increased risk of diabetes and liver and muscle inflammation, and on the positive side can include reduced risk of cataracts and prevention of depression and dementia.
In late 2012, the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions included a discussion of five new studies suggesting that the cardiovascular benefit of taking statins is worth the slightly increased risk of diabetes. Researchers at the conference explained that cardiovascular events are much more serious than the small increase in risk of diabetes. While all five studies showed an increase in diabetes risk, the absolute increase was low and depended on the patients’ level of risk prior to treatment and how high their doses of statins were. There are strategies that can reduce diabetes risk in statins users, including using bile-acid sequestrants, reducing niacin, and monitoring glucose. Consensus at the conference was that statins’ cardiovascular benefits are so important that the drugs shouldn’t be avoided because of concerns about diabetes.
In addition, statins’ beneficial effects on mood have been reported for several years. In 2010, an epidemiological study by Pasco et al. in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics showed that subjects without depression were less likely to develop a new onset of depression if they were treated with statins compared to those who were not. Stafford et al. reported in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry in 2010 that patients taking statins had a 79% decreased likelihood of depression at 9 months of follow-up. Moreover, a 2012 meta-analysis by O’Neil et al. in BMC Medicine reported that overall, statins had positive effects on mood.
A recent huge Taiwanese study of statins suggests that the drugs can also prevent dementia. At the European Society of Cardiology congress in 2013, Tin-Tse Lin reported that among 58,000 people studied, those taking the highest dosage of statins had a threefold decrease in risk of developing pre-senile and senile dementia. He explained that it was the potency of statins such as atorvastatin and rosuvastatin that provided the cognitive benefit. However it is high doses that lead to less benign side effects such as liver and muscle inflammation.
A separate US study presented at the congress showed that statin use also lowered risk of developing cataracts by 19%.
New research shows that regular meditation in the form of mindfulness training improves both mood and measures of white matter (axon tract) integrity and plasticity in the anterior cingulate cortex (a key node in the brain network modulating self-regulation).
This research by Tang et al. published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2012 was a continuation of the same research group’s investigation of integrative mind-body training (IMBT), a type of mindfulness training that incorporates increased awareness of body, breathing, and attention to external instructions meant to induce a state of balanced relaxation and focused attention. In a previous Tang et al. study comparing participants who received IMBT training with a control group who spent the same amount of time doing relaxation training, the participants who practiced IMBT for five days (20 minutes/day) had better scores on measures of attention, anxiety, depression, anger, fatigue, and energy. In another study the researchers found that four weeks of IMBT (30 minutes/day) increased fractional anisotrophy (FA) in white matter areas involving the anterior cingulate cortex, while four weeks of relaxation training did not bring about any effect on white matter. Decrease in FA is a part of aging. The four weeks of IMBT also decreased axial and radial diffusivity, suggesting better alignment of axons along white matter tracts.
In the most recent study, two weeks of IMBT (30 minutes/day) produced a reduction in axial diffusivity, but not effects on fractional anisotrophy or radial diffusivity, suggesting that the reduced axial diffusivity leads to the other changes seen with longer IMBT.
Editor’s Note: In those with unresolved problems with anxiety and depression, regular 20-30 minutes/day mindfulness practice may have beneficial effects not only on mood, but also on central nervous system structures. Mindfulness training involves focused attention on sequentially different parts of the body leading to exclusive focus on the physical aspects of breathing in and out. Intruding thoughts are recognized, but let go as trivial, passing interruptions, and focus is returned to the body and breathing. The aim is to clear the mind of its usual ideas, thoughts, and worries by continually refocusing on breathing. It takes practice to achieve, but regular mindfulness training can be a helpful addition to pharmaco- and psychotherapy.
It is also noteworthy that mindfulness training is one of the processes that helps elongate the ends of each strand of DNA, called telomeres. Telomeres shorten with aging, stress, and episodes of depression, and short telomeres lead to a variety of adverse medical consequences.
Research has shown that serotonin-selective reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants can be useful for severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). According to a 2006 article by Steiner et al. in the Journal of Women’s Health, there are various ways that SSRIs can be used to treat PMS symptoms such as irritability, depressed mood, dysphoria, bloating, breast tenderness, appetite changes, and psychosocial function, including intermittent dosing just in the two weeks prior to PMS. Usually doses for PMS are lower than those used to treat depression.
For those with mood symptoms that continue throughout the month, continuous (daily) dosing may improve PMS symptoms. For those whose mood symptoms worsen during PMS, continuous dosing can be intermittently increased from around the time of ovulation to a few days after the period begins. For those women with mood symptoms only during PMS, intermittent dosing only during those weeks between ovulation and the period seems to be helpful and minimizes side effects of the SSRIs.
Editor’s Note: While SSRIs sometimes take weeks to reach maximum benefit for those with depression, intermittent dosing for women with severe PMS seems to be helpful. This may be because SSRIs acutely increase the neurosteroid allopregnanolone, which enhances GABA-A receptor activity, associated with improvement in mood and anxiety.